Captain Francis Rennick of Ventnor Fire Brigade passed away on 28 May 1896 aged 65. 

Francis Rennick, referred to in the Press as Frank, was born in Ireland around 1830. He moved to Ventnor in 1861 in the employ of the pier contractor and when in later years a succession of storms damaged the structure, he was employed by a Mr Burt to remove it. A Post Officer directory of 1875 evidences his home address as 8 Devonshire Terrace, Ventnor and the Census of six years later details his wife, one daughter and that their home was shared with two 19 year old ladies.

Devonshire Terrace, photographed in 1867.

The 1881 Census evidences that Frank was a coal merchant but later he was appointed to superintend the laying down of Ventnor's water drainage system and later was awarded the contract to construct the sewage outfall. He was also awarded the Local Board's scavening contract, until he sat on the Board when he fulfilled the roles of collector of tolls and inspector of nuisances; both of which he fulfilled until his death.

The first Press mention of him in connection with the town's fire brigade emerged in the County Press of February 1885 that reported on a Tuesday afternoon drill session at Bonchurch supervised by Captain Rennick and his deputy Mr Jenkins where everything was found in good order as regards the gear.

How he became captain of the fire brigade and whether or not he had first served as a fireman remains unproven. What is proven is that over the next eleven years until his death he was the head of a brigade stricken with internal feud and turbulence that caused him to tender his resignation by 1892, which was refused and he was encouraged to remain as captain, which he did. Coupled to these trying times was the more personal and devastating early death of his wife Martha before 1891. 

Image courtesy of Ventnor Heritage Centre.

The image on the left shows Ventnor's firemen in 1876 shortly after the purchase of the horse-drawn manual fire engine they are proudly showing off in the image. Prior to the purchase of the engine the brigade had existed since the 1847 burning of the Ventnor Mill but armed only with two ladders and 30 buckets. 

However the brigade seemed settled and content when Frank took the chair for the annual dinner in November 1885 where the dinner reflected great credit on the cuisine of the Commercial Hotel. Evidently the members of the Local Board were satisfied with their brigade too as the words of Mr Raynes, who raised a toast to the brigade and their captain, was lavished with praise; they are certainly a smart lot of fellows and it had given me great pleasure to see them put in such a quick appearance on the occasion of the Sandford fire. Captain Rennick responded with humility; No credit is due to myself as there is not a man in the brigade but was willing and anxious to do whatever is asked of him.

A suggestion that Frank hadn't been in the brigade for very long before this event was stated by the man himself in response to further accolades bestowed on him by his deputy Mr Jenkins; any compliment paid to me ought to be reversed because I am indebted, as one who had entered in to the task as a green hand, for anything I know to Messrs. Jenkins and Moses.

Given that Frank Rennick was the brigade's captain it seems peculiar that Mr Moses was entitled its superintendent. In every other brigade across the Island the title of captain was used to give rank to the person who superintended the brigade; the use of the rank becoming the norm following the appointment of army captain Eyre Massey Shaw as head of the London Fire Engine Establishment in the 1860's. Ventnor had adopted a unique arrangement whereby the captain was in charge of the firemen during drills and at fires, yet the Local Board had installed a superintendent as a kind of staff officer who reported direct to the Board. This arrangement was to cause Frank considerable problems in the future.

Less than a year later Jenkins, a former Royal Navy sailor during the days of wooden warships, resigned from the brigade. Ambiguity was caused by misunderstandings between the captain and the superintendent that led to Jenkins making a belated claim for unpaid dues in December 1886. Frank was called to account by the Board when it seems that Moses had stirred Jenkins into action as the captain insisted he'd been paid all he was owed. Earlier in the same year Frank had already been subjected to the scorn of the Board when he claimed that just five shillings had been invested in the brigade over the course of the previous year. The Town Clerk produced a series of records showing this not to be the case but Rennick's apparent ignorance of these sums suggests further ambiguity in the management of the brigade.

Matters were worsened the same year when Fireman George Bevis lodged a claim with the Board for the cost incurred by he and four other firemen who represented the brigade at the Lord Mayor's Procession in London. Beavis claimed that Frank had agreed to the trip and to reimburse the men's costs but as the Board were unaware and hadn't sanctioned the expense they refused it. Matters heightened when Beavis stated an intention to repeat the trip the following year, in expectation of further expenses causing members of the Board to question Rennick's command over the men. Rennick's response was to indicate that his status was to command only at fires and drills and he was completely unaware that invites to the Lord Mayor's Procession had been received. Evidently the Town Clerk had passed them on to the superintendent Mr Moses. 

As the Board flatly rejected Beavis's repeated claim he instead turned his attention on Captain Rennick and had him hauled before court in August 1887 where the former stated; On the way to the engine house I met the captain who said to me 'will you attend the Lord Mayor's show for me? If you will only say you'll go I will pay you'. Captain Rennick's impassioned response and denial was enough for His Honour to throw Beavis's case out. However that didn't stop Beavis having won last stab with a letter to the Board asking for money. 

The division created within the Brigade was so great that when a fire occurred at a property owned by a Mr Hambly in New Year 1888, no-one thought to alert the captain which, some claimed, led to a delay in sending the fire-engine as it was locked in the station! Under investigation Rennick refuted the claim, stating that several keys were available, notably one being held by the superintendent. Despite the captain's unsatisfactory status, Mr Cogger of the Board who placed him in that position uttered in the investigatory meeting; He should have entire control over every man, or else get out of it! It is the captain's own fault if the men are not under his control. 

Rennick weathered this storm but the spirit had been beaten out of the brigade. Perhaps Mr Moses the superintendent was beginning to feel the heat of his involvement in the issues as soon after he resigned. He was replaced by the ageing Thomas Coleman, one of the town's earliest firemen. If Rennick relaxed in the hope that the removal of Moses might streamline the issues he'd experienced he was sadly wrong. Coleman was so popular with the already unhappy firemen that he became the new conduit of their claims of dissatisfaction with the captain. The irony is that throughout this period, where Captain Rennick had been in charge at fires, he was praised highly for his command, decision making and saving of property. 

However this was entirely unquestioned. In March 1890 when the County Press reflected on the effect of a fire in Godshill the newspaper mentioned that they had; received a communication in which strictures were passed upon the captain of the Ventnor Fire Brigade. As it was common for the Press of the time to publish letters received anonymously, it perhaps suggests the strength of the content that on this occasion they chose not to do so. However they allowed Captain Rennick to see it to which his response was that; he hopes the communication will appear if the writer will put his name to it. The writer did not and the letter was never published. 

As mentioned above, when Frank tendered his resignation in August 1892 the Chairman of the Board stated; It shall be a loss to the town if Mr Rennick gives up his office, if the Board agree with me we should ask that gentleman to continue to hold the position. Evidently the Board did agree and Frank remained at the helm. 

By now Frank was suffering the effects of Bright's disease. This degenerative condition is manifest by a host of debilitating symptoms including haemorrhages, blindness, convulsions and coma. Still serving his adopted home as its brigade captain Frank succumbed to the ravages of his condition at home on the evening of Thursday 28 May attended by his only daughter Annie. 

Reflecting on his life the County Press correspondent for Ventnor stated; Deceased was of Irish origin. He possessed the characteristics of his race, hasty and quick tempered, but kind and generous at heart, and he died respected by all who knew him. 

At his funeral at the Parish Cemetery the following Tuesday his coffin was escorted to the grave by Superintendent Coleman, Brigade Secretary Groves, Engineer Collins, Turncock Pearson and Firemen Worth, F. Newnham, G. Newnham, Wheeler, Dennis, F. Vince, A. Vince, Squibb, Hess and Humphries in addition to Ryde's Captain Charles Langdon and Shanklin's Captain Oscar Rayner.

Rest in peace Captain Rennick.